Former private equity CFO Griff Aldrich leads Longwood University to first NCAA men’s basketball tournament

Six years ago, Griff Aldrich left his position as chief financial officer of a private equity firm for an entry-level administrative position on the men’s basketball staff at the University of Maryland in the Baltimore County. He spent two seasons at UMBC before becoming head coach at Longwood University, a small college in Farmville, Va., which started playing in Division 1 in 2004 and never finished higher. above 0.500 in any season.

This season, Longwood (26-6) finally broke that streak and took another step by winning the Big South Conference Tournament title on Sunday afternoon to qualify for the NCAA Tournament for the first time in club history. school.

For Aldrich, this achievement is the latest in a long career he has achieved in an atypical career that has seen him succeed at the highest levels of business, law and coaching. Aldrich, who grew up in Virginia Beach, Va., attended Hampden-Sydney, an all-male Division III college in Virginia, where he was a member of the basketball team for four years from 1992 to 1996.

Aldrich then enrolled in the University of Virginia Law School, graduating in 1999. But instead of pursuing a career in law, he returned to Hampden-Sydney for the 1999-2000 season as a ‘assistant coach. After that season, in which he earned $24,000, Aldrich changed his mind and took a job earning over $100,000 as an associate at the prestigious law firm Vinson & Elkins in Houston.

Not only was the attorney job much more lucrative, which was handy considering Aldrich had to pay off $43,000 in student loans, but Aldrich also considered it much more stable than coaching. He figured if he didn’t like it at Vinson & Elkins, he could always find a job as a lawyer somewhere else. Basketball coaching, on the other hand, is more difficult and unpredictable because there are only about 1,500 Division I head coaching and assistant coaching jobs and turnover is high.

“I was an ambitious, driven person,” Aldrich said. “Success has in many ways been my guide. I was not sure that I was going to be able to rise in the coaching profession. I had the debt, but I think I was also kicked out of coaching at that time by a lot of fear of not really rising through the coaching ranks.

This was no problem at Vinson & Elkins, where he quickly rose to become a partner in the firm’s business groups where he led teams and advised clients on mergers and acquisitions, capital markets transactions capital, private equity transactions and other financial areas. The experience has proven valuable even today.

“You have a lot of reps to do business with, and you’ve really honed your skills in team building, business management, and project management,” Aldrich said. “At the same time, you can also really observe your customers and observe how different organizations operate, how they operate, how the CEOs, CFOs and general counsels you engage with interact with you and other service providers and their own team.

He added, “These values ​​are certainly transferable to building a varsity athletics organization and a varsity basketball program.”

In 2012, Aldrich left Vinson & Elkins and started his own company, Lift Energy Partners, where he raised capital from private investors and acquired oil and gas leases in North Central Texas. Lift brought in operating partners to drill wells. Two years later, Aldrich joined Atinum Energy Investments, a Houston-based private equity firm backed by Korean investors. He was CEO and CFO.

Throughout his experiences in law and business, Aldrich has kept his hand in basketball as a grassroots basketball coach. He was the founder of HIS Hoops, a youth program in Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood, one of the city’s poorest. Children would follow the program four days a week after school and would have 30 minutes of reading comprehension and 30 minutes of math work. They would also have a free Bible study and dinner and have individual and team basketball practices.

“For those kids, it was great because they had something to do that was constructive,” Aldrich said. “You could just see them transform before your eyes. It was very fun.”

Aldrich was so passionate about helping in the area that he and his wife moved to the Third Ward and adopted three children, who are now 10, 10 and 7 years old. Still, around 2016, Aldrich wished he could devote more time to coaching and mentoring.

“What I was really looking forward to was going to my boss at the private equity firm and saying, ‘Hey, is there a way to cut my time and salary and be able to spend a little more time with this Christian ministry and SES Hoops ‘program?’” Aldrich said.

Instead, Aldrich never had that conversation. In April 2016, Aldrich took a position as Director of Basketball Operations at UMBC under new coach Ryan Odom, Aldrich’s best friend and teammate. The following year, Aldrich was promoted to Director of Recruitment and Program Development, where he served as Odom’s de facto chief of staff.

The highlight of Aldrich’s time at UMBC came at the 2018 NCAA Tournament when the Retrievers won a stunning first-round upset from Virginia, the first time in event history that a header 16 seed defeated a No. 1 seed. Two days later, UMBC lost to Kansas State, which ended up being Aldrich’s last game in school.

The following week, Aldrich was hired as a trainer at Longwoood, five miles from Hampden-Sydney, his alma mater. Aldrich was surprised at Longwood’s interest given his lack of experience as a head coach. But Aldrich has bonded with Longwood chairman Taylor Reveley, a former corporate lawyer and Virginia law school graduate who grew up in the same area as Aldrich. Aldrich also felt a kinship with Longwood director of athletics, Troy Austin, a former Duke football player who is now assistant director of athletics at Duke.

“They called me and said, ‘Look, we’re looking to make a program,'” Aldrich said. “The pitch for me was a lot more, ‘We think the Xs and O’s you’ll be able to relate to, but it’s building the organization and the culture that we think you’ll be really good at. “”

Since Aldrich’s arrival at Longwood, the Lancers have shown steady progress, going from a conference record of 5-11 in the first season to 9-9 and 10-10 the following two seasons. This season they were chosen by a panel of coaches and members of the media during pre-season to finish second in the Great South North Division. But they exceeded expectations, finishing 15-1 in the conference regular season and winning three more tournament title games, including a convincing 79-58 win over Winthrop on Sunday to clinch the NCAA Tournament berth.

As Longwood won, fan interest also grew, with three of the last four home games sold out in the school’s 1,900-seat arena. The Lancers also had a good turnout at the conference tournament in Charlotte, North Carolina

“We had fans from Florida, Nebraska, New York, Texas,” Aldrich said. “People came from all over. It was really fun.”

And now it’s off to the NCAA Tournament, where a national audience will be introduced to Aldrich and his players, which include sophomore guard Justin Hill, who leads the team with 14.2 points and 4, 2 assists per game; junior guard Isaiah Wilkins, a transfer from Wake Forest who is averaging 12.8 points and a team-high 6.3 rebounds per game; and senior guard Deshaun Wade, who is averaging 11.9 points per game.

Aldrich planned to let his players sit out training on Monday and Tuesday before returning to the field on Wednesday. Longwood will likely be a No. 15 or No. 16 seed when the NCAA Tournament champ is announced on Sunday night, which means he faces a long chance of winning a game. Still, until then, the Lancers will cherish their first conference title and how far they’ve come.

“We’ll love to watch the other tournaments (in the conference) and enjoy the moment,” Aldrich said. “It’s good that we have a few days here to rest and enjoy.”

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